Compulsive Helping – Codependency


Controlling and helping. There is an arrogance to compulsive helping that is absolutely devastating because what compulsive helping does is to say, “I know what’s good for you.” My friend Bill Glasser, the consultant psychiatrist in California says, if you ever hear that phrase, from somebody in particular the government saying, “I know what’s good for you. Run! Run for your life because that person is going to cause you immense damage.”

Now as far as young children are concerned, and of course we do as adults know what’s best for them, we do try to give them some fear, we say, “Hot! Hot! Hot!” you know, to try to stop the child putting on the hand on the oven.

We actually try to help children because we do know better. But as far as adults are concerned, no we don’t. It’s very difficult for compulsive helpers to learn that. I chose my friends. I got some right crazy friends. I got some wonderful friends, you know, people who are absolutely off the wall. They’re my choice. They’re my mates.

There are some things I do. The people say, “Robert you’re crazy.” I left here on Friday night at quarter to ten. Last night I left at five and then had to come back between eight and ten to see a couple of new patients.  People say, “Why didn’t you play golf?” Well I would say, “Golf? You think that golf is more fun than what I do? I love the work I do. I don’t’ want to play [Blooming] golf!” But people would see me as crazy, but it’s my choice.  My wife works with me. My children are grown up. There’s no downside. I enjoy it.

Did you see the bit in the newspaper last week that showed that type A personalities do not have a higher risk of heart attacks? We always use to imagine that the people who… working on this, that and the other room, buzz, buzz, buzz had a high risk of heart attacks. They do not.  It’s folklore. It is not true. That was close.

So what’s the boundary between helping and compulsive helping? It’s the arrogance. If I stand on my high horse and say, “I know what’s good for you.” That is compulsive helping. If I’m doing something that was simple nice, you know, I might pick something up that somebody dropped. I might spend half an hour with somebody. I might go out of my way just to be nice to that person. That is normal helping.

Now it is possible even for compulsive helpers to be normal helpers at the same time. What we’re not trying to do is to get the compulsive helper to be nasty. We’re trying to help the compulsive helper to get rid of the two characteristics of compulsive helping which is “care taking” that’s way beyond caring. It’s care taking. It’s being somebody’s full time care taker because that person… “Oh you couldn’t possibly do it yourself. I’ve got to do it for you.” It will stop that person stone dead in terms of growth. We have to learn from our own experience.

The other characteristic is self-denial. “Okay hon, I know it cost me another arm and a leg but on the other side I’ve got an arm and a leg and I can hop.” We’re not bothered about how much it’s cost us, how much damage it’s cost us. “It’s in a good cause.” Well that self-righteousness is appalling. It is so arrogant. People learn much better from themselves, where we’re not there doing everything for them.

So as far as compulsive helping is concerned, it is very controlling. It is trying to fix somebody else and also trying to fix one’s self with a sense of needing to be needed. Well, that’s not very clever.

I can’t get my self-esteem through someone else either from what I’m doing for them or what I’m getting them to do for me.  My self-esteem has to be based on my own actions, my own thoughts, my own feelings, my own reactions to other people. That’s where my self-esteem comes from and that’s what we try to help our patients with here.